Online Content Management and Provision
ONLINE CONTENT MANAGEMENT AND PROVISION
Online content is the mix of text and audio and visual material available on a Web page. While Web developers invest considerable time and resources in the underlying technology that drives a Web site, equally important to a site's success is the content it posts. As with most tasks associated with operating a Web site, you can develop and manage content yourself, you can hire a qualified individual to handle this for you, or you hand it over to a Web development company. For businesses looking to outsource content-related tasks, CNET.com offers an extensive list of Web developers and their specialties.
PLAN YOUR CONTENT AREAS
Whether you are planning to develop and manage your own content or to outsource it to a third party, you will need to decide what type of content to include on your site. Before you make this decision, content strategist Barry Zeger recommends developing a thorough and concrete understanding of your mission, brand, and customers. This insight will "not only allow your start-up to operate more strategically, but it will also aid in the crafting of Web site content that's consistent, credible, and agreeable to everyone who works on it." Before getting to the specifics, it is also a good idea to outline which sections you want to include on your site. It might prove worthwhile to examine rival Web sites, as you may find an appealing organizational model to use for your own content.
If you intend to sell products or services online, you will probably want to post extensive information about your offerings. What information do your potential customers need to know before making a purchase? Examples of relevant information include product features, warranty descriptions, return policies, price, and delivery policies and procedures. To make the purchase decision easier for your customers, you can also include comparisons to rival products and services that highlight your advantages. Many online businesses also include sections with customer testimonials and frequently asked questions, although some experts caution that too much of this type of information might overload potential customers. Quite often, the organization of the information is as important as the information itself. Visitors should be able to access it if they wish, but they should not have to wade through fine details to get to basic information.
Along with product information, most online businesses also include content about the company itself. For example, you might write a company history or compile a list of company milestones. You can also include short biographies about your top managers. It is also important to include your company's physical address and phone number. In addition, public companies typically offer extensive information to potential investors. Again, be careful not to overwhelm visitors with too much information. It is typically most appropriate for this type of content to be easily accessible via a link, which allows visitors to choose whether or not they need to view it.
MAKE THE SITE READABLE
Along with the information itself, tone, style, and presentation are also important considerations when developing online content. If you are selling snow-boards, surfboards, and related accessories to teenagers, the tone of your content will likely be less formal than if you are selling diamond engagement rings. Although the tone will vary depending on your customer, a simple, straightforward writing style is typically most suitable. When deciding how to present the information, choose a format that showcases information in short, easy-to-read chunks, rather than burying it in long paragraphs. You might consider using bulleted lists for product features and reasons to choose your company over rivals.
KEEP VISITORS COMING BACK
To entice customers to return to your site on a regular basis, you will also need to include information that is updated on a regular basis. One way is to add a news feed to your site. To get one, contact a news compiler such as iSyndicate, Reuters, or ScreamingMedia. In most cases, the provider will supply the coding you need to present their news on your site. They will also provide options for limiting the news to relevant topics, perhaps by keyword or predefined category. This will help make sure the news is meaningful and appropriate to your visitors.
Other forms of regularly updated information include weather updates, stock tickers, search engines, chat rooms, and bulletin boards. SmallBizManager.com lists various sources of free Web content for small businesses. Depending on your area of expertise, you might also consider writing a regular column or newsletter. For example, if you are planning to sell plants and gardening supplies online, many of your visitors might be interested in how-to articles related to gardening or calendars of local gardening events.
MANAGE AND TRACK YOUR RESULTS
Managaing content is an ongoing process and commitment. To continue drawing new and repeat visitors, your site should be as up-to-date as possible. You can also gauge the effectiveness of existing content by keeping track of which pages visitors to your site view most frequently, how long they typically spend on each page, which links they tend to select. Various tools are available for this type of traffic tracking. You can also ask customers to comment on your site's content. Whichever evaluation method you use, keep in mind that the key to effective content management is ensuring your content is in line with your marketing goals.
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Vigoroso, Mark W. "The Reign of Content in E-Commerce." E-Commerce Times, October 19, 2001. Available from http://www.ecommercetimes.com.
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